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Chinese court sentences Canadian to death

January 14, 2019

A Canadian drug-trafficking suspect has seen his 15-year jail term turned into a death sentence by a Chinese court. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was extremely concerned, and Canada updated its travel advisory.

China, Liaoning: Todesurteil für kanadischen Drogenschmuggler
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/CCTV

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a Canadian man to death on drug trafficking charges after a retrial deemed his original 15-year prison sentence to be too lenient.

The Dalian court said Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, who was detained in December 2014, played a "key part" in an international drug smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 222 kilograms (488 pounds) of methamphetamine from a warehouse in Dalian city to Australia.

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The ruling has deepened a rift between China and Canada, with the sentence coming on the back of China's discontent with Canada's arrest of a top executive from Chinese telecom giant Huawei in December on a US extradition request related to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Chinese authorities later detained two Canadian nationals — a former diplomat and a business consultant — on suspicion of endangering national security, in a move seen by some as retaliation for the Huawei executive's arrest.

On Monday, Canada updated its travel advisory for China, warning its nationals of the "risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws."

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'Completely at odds with the facts'

Schellenberg had originally been sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000-yuan ($22,000, €19,300) fine in November. But following the appeal, a high court in Liaoning ruled that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes.

"The court completely rejects the accused person's explanation and defense because it is completely at odds with the facts," the chief judge told the court.

"This syndicate ... does not just spread drugs in one country, the problem has spread across borders ... it is a harm to human health and also to the stability of countries," the court said.

Schellenberg, who has maintained his innocence, told the court he was not a drug smuggler and that he came to China as a tourist.

A Chinese person convicted of involvement in the same drug smuggling operation was earlier given a suspended death sentence.

Trudeau expresses concern

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said he was "extremely concerned, as should all countries around the world" be to China's choice to act arbitrarily with its justice system.

"As a government, we actually strengthened the policy that requires the Canadian government to always intercede on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty anywhere in the world," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. The government will continue to do so, he added.

Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client now has 10 days to appeal.

Zhang said he argued in Monday's one-day hearing that there was insufficient evidence to prove his client's involvement in the drug smuggling operation.

He added that prosecutors had not introduced new evidence to justify a heavier sentence.

China has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes in the past, including a Japanese national in 2014, a woman from the Philippines in 2013 and a Briton in 2009.

law,jm/se (AFP, AP, dpa)

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